An interesting story I came across on the interweb today

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nabby's picture
Joined: 11.05.2011
An interesting story I came across on the interweb today

An article regarding Karamea's development, or lack thereof in regards to the rest of NZ,

What is everyone's take on this?

Paul Murray
Paul Murray's picture
Joined: 24.03.2010
Re: An interesting story I came across on the interweb today

Hi Nabby,

I saw this article in The Westport News and thought it contained some valid points, but that is was essentially a rather dim and negative view on the Karamea regional situation. 

The entire South Island has been hammered economically with a series of events that have had influence on the region beyond our control. The most significant of these being the series of earthquakes in Christchurch that saw visitor numbers to the South Island drop by around 40%. While we're very glad we don't live in Canterbury and our resultant problems are insignificant compared with the challenges faced by Cantabrians to rebuild their homes, businesses and lives, we have challenges of our own to address that have resulted from the downturn in tourism from the earthquakes, high $NZ, global economic strife and other factors.

As Bob no longer lives in the region, he seems to have missed that many positive regional developments have also occurred here. The main one being the opening of the Heaphy Track to mountain biking in the winter season from May 1 to September 30. This has somewhat cushioned the impact of the ChCh seismic damage on our regional economy by bringing custom to the tourism operators here in what has traditionally been our "down season." 

I do agree with Bob that the potential of the Heaphy MTB season has not been realised as the many of the riders finish the track and leave town without staying here, experiencing the wealth of fabulous scenic attractions here, enjoying the climate, spending any money, or unwinding and resting after the Heaphy experience. I believe the principle reason for this is that Karamea lacks a marketable mountain-biking activity that could be promoted to people riding the Heaphy Track so that when they finish, there is a reason to stay in Karamea. 

The elephant in the room here is the Fenian/Oparara Loop track, which connects the Fenian Track with the Oparara Basin. If Karamea tourism operators and other business owners and Karamea residents get together and make a concerted effort to overcome the barriers to mountain biking being permitted on this track. This could bring a whole lot of economic benefit to the region in the very season that it is most needed. 

Mountain bikers are demographically quite affluent, have tertiary educations, white collar positions, MTBing is enjoyed by a broad range of ages from teens through to retirees and have disposable income that permits an average daily spend of $150. To attract such people to Karamea and encourage them to stay here for a few days seems a no-brainer to me and to open the Fenian/Oparara Track if not all year round, at least in concert with the Heaphy Track MTB season would provide the marketable MTB activity necessary to capture this market and greatly benefit the community economically without lot of money being spent. The facility already exists, all that is required is a change in the current mindset that MTBs are not permitted on the track to MTBs are permitted on the track and receiving permission from the Department of Conservation to allow the activity. 

Early indications are that DOC would consider permitting MTBs on the track should a community group put such a proposal forward as it would bring more people into the Oparara Basin region to see the arches and caves and better utilise the facilities there. It would also enable greater utilisation of the Fenian/Oparara Loop Track, which has not been well patronised since it opened in October 2008. There is a fabulous community asset already here, all we need to do as a community is to better utilise it for the benefit of all people living in Karamea.

As a tourism operator in the region, I freely admit that this initiative would help my business and I would be very grateful for that, but bringing more people to Karamea to stay at the tourism facilities here would have significant flow-on benefits for the whole community, the supermarket, the Karamea Village Hotel, the Last Resort, Riverstone, Karamea Holiday Park, Karamea River Motels, Karamea Lodge, Little Wanganui Hotel, Rongo Backpackers & Gallery, Karamea Farm Baches, Karamea Motors, Karamea Hardware, the Karamea Resource and Information Centre, Global Gypsy Gallery, Naturally Inclined, Karaka Karamea Smallgoods, True Blue Organics, Helicopter Charter Karamea, Oparara Valley Trust, Karamea Connections and all other businesses and services in the community would benefit. 

Bringing the MTB fraternity to Karamea may also address the "forest of 'for sale" signs" quoted by Bob in his article and help real-estate sales in the region, this will help bolster values of real estate in the region and lead to greater stability in that market. 

A steady flow of visitors to the region year-round would also help to address the current lack of mechanical services, cafe optins and other services in Karamea by increasing demand for such services and making them financially viable. This would further diversify the local economy and make the region more economically stable.

It would seem a win-win for the whole community to work toward opening the Fenian/Oparara Loop Track to mountain biking. I have written on behalf of Karamea Tourism operators to the Oparara Valley Trust, the Karamea Resource and Information Center, the Buller District Council, the Department of Conservation Kawatiri office in Westport as well as the conservators of Nelson/Marlborough and West Coast, the West Coast Regional Council, Tourism West Coast and Development West Coast in this regard and would be happy to provide copies of the correspondence and responses to interested people. 

Please e-mail or call me if you would like more information, have any questions, or would like to be involved in working for positive change in our community.

Paul Murray.

E-mail: codsatactrix [dot] co [dot] nz

Ph: 767


PS: Below is an example of the letters I have sent to various stakeholders in the region. Copies of the letters and responses are available on request.


Subject:           Developing A New Tourist Market in Karamea/Northern Buller


Myself, and other local tourism operators, am seeking Karamea Information and Resource Centre support for the development of a long-term viable mountain-biking market in the Karamea/Little Wanganui area.


In 2011 the Department of Conservation opened the Heaphy Track for mountain biking during the winter season (albeit on a trial basis).  That decision has the potential to build a significant new tourism market, particularly during the traditionally quiet winter season.

 Unfortunately, during the 2011 winter season only a small proportion of mountain bikers cycling the track stayed in Karamea.  The great majority (perhaps up to 80%) chose to arrange transport out of Karamea immediately upon completing the track.  Of those who chose to stay, few remained for more than 1 to 2 nights with even fewer visiting attractions such as the Oparara limestone formations.  In effect, mountain bikers do not yet consider Karamea a tourist/holiday destination; rather they view it simply as a fleeting moment on the way to elsewhere.  Clearly existing public marketing of this new mountain-biking opportunity has not yet ‘energised’ the potential market.

 As the locally based marketing organisation for Karamea/Little Wanganui tourism operators the Karamea Information Centre plays a central role in ensuring the viability and success of many local businesses.  As such, the Centre has a vested interest in growing the local tourism market. 

I, along with other tourism-based operators in the Karamea/Little Wanganui area, know that to attract more bikers to the area for extended periods two factors need to be addressed: 

  • Marketing of the existing mountain-biking facilities by tourism providers and public agencies such as Tourism West Coast, the Buller District Council and the Karamea Information and Resource Centre needs to be extended and deepened.


  • Local marketable mountain-biking activities/facilities, other than the Heaphy Track ride, need to be developed.  The development of additional local facilities is even more important if the Heaphy track is to attract recreational riders who view biking the track as a prelude to visiting an attractive holiday destination––in 2011, many if not most mountain bikers riding the track were dedicated mountain bikers whose primary interest was simply biking the Heaphy Track rather than holidaying in Karamea or the wider Northern Buller area; and


 Karamea has great potential for the development of new tracks for mountain bikers––tracks that would encourage both ‘casual’ and dedicated riders to visit the area for more extended periods.  The most important and attractive of these is the Fenian/Oparara Loop Track, established by the Oparara Valley Trust in 2008. Any position taken by the Oparara Valley Trust Board on this issue will be a significant factor in driving such an initiative.  If this track was improved to mountain-biking standards and opened for mountain biking there would be significant benefits. 


 Mountain bikers would have access to a full-day activity riding the loop along the Oparara River to the Oparara Basin, visiting the caves, arches and other attractions before returning to Karamea along the coast.  This activity could be successfully promoted to riders completing/beginning the Heaphy track ride in the winter season.   It would encourage bikers to remain in Karamea for at least one night after completing/or beginning the Heaphy Track and a further night after completing the Oparara Loop Track.  It would also provide a new activity to attract more visitors during that period of the year when the Heaphy Track is closed to mountain biking.


That the relevant organisations (e.g. the Oparara Valley Trust, the Department of Conservation, Karamea Information and Resource Centre, Tourism West Coast, the Buller District Council and Development West Coast) to develop, open and promote:


  • The Oparara Loop Track to bikers travelling the Heaphy Track in the winter season and as a biking destination outside of the winter season; and in the longer term


  • Further tracks for mountain bikers in the Karamea area, with a long-term goal of linking, directly or indirectly, to tracks south of the Mokihinui River, such as the Old Ghost Road and Denniston tracks.


Potential Benefits

  • Showcasing the Oparara Basin and its limestone caves, arches and walkways (assisting the Oparara Valley Trust to maximise the value of the public assets that it has developed for the benefit of the local community).


  • Development of a new affluent market largely comprised of professionals willing to spend significant amounts on their chosen holiday activities.


  • Provision of customers/cash-flow to businesses during the winter season (addressing the annual issue of the winter season downturn).


  • An overall increase in visitor numbers and lengths of stay by visitors.


  • A strong contribution to the development of the increasingly important eco-tourism market (mountain biking is an internationally recognised and fast-growing eco-tourism activity).


  • Improving access to the Oparara Basin for older travellers and those who cannot cope with high-impact activities (i.e. mountain biking is a recognised low-impact activity that is suitable for older people and those with impairments such as hip injuries).


  • Provision of a recreational facility that can be used by the local community.


  • Establishment and promotion of a facility (facilities) that is consistent with: the Government's stated policy to support the development of national cycling ways (including biking tracks and trails for community use and the boosting of regional tourism numbers/revenues); and Tourism West Coast's existing commitment to the development and promotion of mountain-biking activities/trails across the whole of the West Coast.


  • An important contribution towards the development of a coordinated network of trails/activities across the whole of the Coast.  A network that would enable West Coast tourism operators to better compete for a share of this rapidly growing market.  A market which to date has been better developed and promoted in other regions. 


I have written separately to the Board of the Oparara Valley Trust, the Buller District Council, the Karamea Information and Resource Centre, the Department of Conservation, Tourism West Coast, Development West Coast and the West Coast Regional Council seeking their individual, public and joint support for this proposal.  I will also be writing to West Coast MPs and relevant Government Ministers seeking their public and, where feasible, financial support.

An early response would be much appreciated.


Yours Sincerely,


Paul Murray

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